“I’m scared of dogs since a negative encounter.”
“I’m still afraid of heights many years after I fell.”
These conditions are commonly referred to as “trauma”. It refers to the emotional scars rooted in experiences of psychological shock or fear. It’s not a straightforward process to overcome it. We can all potentially harbor traumatic stress. Furthermore, repeated exposure to trauma leads to the risks of developing PTSD or even complex PTSD. But what exactly is trauma, and what are some stress management methods we can use to cope?
70% of the World’s Population Harbors Trauma
According to an epidemiological survey conducted across 24 countries, the percentage of people who have experienced trauma at least once in their lifetime is 70.4%. That’s how close traumatic experiences are to us. Those who have experienced a traumatic event usually have flashbacks of those memories. Random experiences similar to past contingencies at any moment can lead to negative interpretations and distress.
According to a survey at a Japanese university, more than 90% of the students were aware of the symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but had never properly learned or sought treatment for appropriate stress management. Furthermore, while a single instance of trauma can cause PTSD, repeated exposure to trauma can lead to complex PTSD, with more severe manifestations of symptoms. While most of us are exposed to the idea of trauma and PTSD through media (movies, interviews, and books), only a few of us go on to actually study or seek further knowledge on the topic. With the lack of proper understanding, many people suffer from traumatic memories believing that they’re abnormal or blame themselves for it.
Trauma not only affects the individual but those around them too. For example, a thoughtful person might purposefully avoid topics surrounding their friend’s trauma. However, the trauma survivor may uninterntionally misinterpret this avoidant behavior. As a result, the survivor may end up feeling even more isolated. Mishandled interactions with a trauma survivor can only prolong and exacerbate the effects of trauma.
A Common Trauma Flashback; Bullying
There are many potential causes for traumatic stress, such as natural disasters, accidents, violence, or abuse. A very common cause, however, is bullying.
Bullying is a common threatful occurrence among children, students, and even some adults. Continual physical and psychological bullying leaves significant impacts on the body and mind. In many cases, the victim feels that they are being bullied, but the perpetrator perceives it as a harmless joke or clowning around. This perception gap makes it a challenge to combat bullying. The painful experiences through bullying become deeply ingrained in the brain, recalled as flashbacks under certain conditions. Bullying can trigger stress responses that involve PTSD.
Furthermore, flashbacks can happen at a moment’s notice, even if the survivor’s not aware of their past trauma. Negative flashbacks can trigger by witnessing others go through the same painful experience, or encountering a similar situation. The repetition of this occurrence strengthens the fear of the past, causing more pain within the survivor.
Here are some countermeasures to eliminate flashbacks:
・Write down your feelings when a flashback happens.
・Write down the common triggers for your flashbacks.
・Talk to someone you can trust.
・See a therapist.
As a first step, see if you could try to reduce the frequency of flashbacks and spend less time thinking about the trauma. Deliberate stress management in this way is key in overcoming your past trauma.
Avoidance Can Backfire with Traumatic Stress
For those who have been traumatized, one way to cope is by remembering the trauma on purpose, confronting it, and proactively trying to overcome it. This method helps the survivor conquer their past while building healthy defense mechanisms. Some of us may regard forgetting trauma as a sign of success (i.e. a result of self-discipline). This, however, is a dangerous misunderstanding. “Forgetting” trauma is not necessarily the goal, as the survivor may end up blaming themselves if they ever recall the trauma again.
The natural sensitivity of trauma can lead to more serious problems if not handled correctly. We need to listen to the trauma survivor’s words and “lean in” to get through together.
Avoid Trauma, Complex PTSD, and Other Mental Illnesses
Traumatic experiences are so ingrained in the brain and body, that many people remember even when they want to forget. It’s certainly not easy to overcome. However, it is possible to live a life without any influence from the past. We need to educate and promote a compassionate approach towards trauma and flashbacks, as well as promote healthy methods of stress management. If we can prevent the survivors from withdrawing themselves into isolation, support them as a community and close friend, that will help them recover in a safe and secure environment.
The causes of trauma are different for everyone. It’s important to develop a mutual understanding in order to overcome it. All of us need to see the problems caused by trauma as a community issue, rather than an individual. Providing a community is essential for the trauma survivors to regain their normal lives again. Let’s break down the stigma so that we can all contribute towards a more wholesome and compassionate society.
→ Looking to improve your mental health? Try the SELFMIND app FREE for 1 week!
If you’re looking for more tips on how to care for your mental health, check out some of our past blog posts!
Takii, M., Ueda, J., & Tominaga, Y. (2013). Examination of the Difference of Traumatic Event by the Difference in Posttraumatic Stress Reactions, Physical Symptoms, Depressive Symptoms, and Anxiety Sensitivity. Anxiety Disorder Research, 4(1), 10-19. doi: 10.14389/adr.4.10
Kobayashi, E., & Miwa, S. (2013). Comments on Studies about Bullying : About the Definition and Measures. Ibaraki University Studies in Teaching Strategies, (32), 163-174.